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Joseph Vaz

A Goanese priest, Apostle of Ceylon, b. at Goa, April 21, 1651; d. at Kandy, Jan. 16, 1711

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Vaz, JOSEPH, a Goanese priest, Apostle of Ceylon, b. at Goa, April 21, 1651; d. at Kandy, January 16, 1711. His parents were Christians of the Konkani Brahmin caste. He learned Portuguese in Sancoale, his father’s village, and Latin in Baulim, his mother’s village, studied rhetoric at the Jesuit college and philosophy and theology at the College of St. Thomas Aquinas, Goa, was ordained in 1676, and became a favorite preacher and confessor. Hearing of the oppressed state of the Catholics of Ceylon under the Dutch, Father Vaz desired to go to their rescue, but was for the time being appointed Superior of the Kanara Mission, a post which he occupied for three years. On his return to Goa in 1684 he spent his time preaching in the villages, and joined the Oratorians then recently established in Goa, of which congregation he was soon made superior. In 1686 he obtained permission to give up this office and to proceed to Ceylon. On landing at Jaffna he found a strong Calvinistic propaganda going on in the island, and the Catholic religion proscribed and under persecution. He was therefore forced to wear disguise, and to do his work in secret. Afterwards, taking up his residence in a village called Sillale where the Catholics were numerous and resolute, he succeeded in reviving the spirit of the faithful But this aroused afresh the vigilance of the Dutch, and he was forced to change his quarters for Putlam, where he worked with great success for a whole year. He then fixed on Kandy, the capital of a native independent state, as his center of operations. Being on his arrival denounced as a Portuguese spy, he was quickly put into prison, where, however, the Catholics gained access to him, thus enabling him to continue his good work. In the end he won the favor of the king, regained his liberty, and began to extend his operations to other parts of the island.

About 1699 several Oratorians and other priests were sent to help him in his labors. The news of his success having reached Rome, Msgr. de Tournon, the papal legate, was directed to enter into communication with him. The legate conceived the idea of erecting Ceylon into a diocese with Father Vaz as first bishop, but the latter dissuaded him from this. In his later years Father Vaz had much to suffer from declining health, and in 1710 was unable to leave Kandy. The subject of his beatification was first urged upon the consideration of the Holy See about 1737 by Dom Francisco de Vasconcellos, S.J., Bishop of Cochin, who also claimed jurisdiction over Ceylon. The process was begun in Goa, and a number of miracles were registered. But the non-fulfilment of certain essential formalities led Benedict XIV to cancel the proceedings, with an order, however, that they should be reinstituted. In South Kanara, he is generally known as Venerable Father Joseph Vaz. Msgr. Zaleski, Delegate Apostolic of the East Indies, wrote of him in 1894, that he has “unfortunately been almost entirely forgotten. In Europe and even in India, there are still some who remember his name, and in Ceylon, the theatre of his Apostolic labors, his name is still mentioned by the older generation; but the rising generation hardly know what they owe to him. And yet, his is a name that ought to endure for ever”.

ERNEST R. HULL


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